Courtesy Reuters

The Shifting Status of French Labor

BEFORE 1936 the French trade union movement was a rather feeble affair and had little influence on the country's social evolution. The Confédération Générale du Travail (usually referred to as the C.G.T.) had been founded in 1895, and during the prewar years, when it was under the influence of revolutionary syndicalism, its membership never exceeded 600,000. During the war both its structure and its methods were modified. Its administration became more centralized and it began working more harmoniously with the public authorities. In the period immediately following the war the membership of the C.G.T. rose suddenly to 2,500,000 by the inclusion of categories never before organized -- clerks, agricultural workers, civil servants and technicians. A new trade unionism developed under the name of "Syndicalisme Constructif," which sought not only to make collective bargaining and arbitration universal but also to formulate a plan for the general economic reorganization of the country.

This development was rudely interrupted by the propaganda of the nascent Communist Party. In their attempt to gain control of the workers' organizations the Communists violently attacked the trade union leaders, created internal dissensions, and finally in the spring of 1922 -- contrary to the better judgment of the leaders of the C.G.T. -- succeeded in unleashing a general strike. It ended in disaster. The ensuing schism within the trade union movement eliminated it for fifteen years as an important factor in the social evolution of France.

The branch of the labor movement which was under Communist control -- the Confédération Générale du Travail Unitaire, known as the C.G.T.U. -- soon experienced the unhappy results of having to follow the shifting policies of a political party. One opposition group after another was roughly expelled. The practice of the C.G.T.U. in calling frequent strikes, which were thought of as "revolutionary gymnastics" rather than as efforts to gain tangible results, so discouraged its adherents that its membership fell

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